Jason Nami didn’t believe his grandmother when she told him there was a church inside of Syracuse’s Destiny USA, formerly known as the Carousel Center.
"I went to see for myself, and lo and behold, there it was. It’s kind of a shock for people to see that kind of ministry in that kind of environment," recalled Nami, who began frequenting the chapel shortly after learning of its existence.
He often visited it several days a week after work in order to spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
"If you’re going to the mall and the King of the World is chilling in one of the rooms there, I think you ought to go say hello before you go shopping or go to the movies or grab a bite to eat," explained Nami, who now volunteers at the chapel.
The chapel he is referring to is part of The Franciscan Place. Tucked away on the lowest level of Destiny USA, at first glance The Franciscan Place appears to be a Catholic-goods store. After visitors enter the storefront, however, they soon learn The Franciscan Place also includes a reconciliation room, a private place for conversations, a reading area and an information center.
"The store helps fund the expenses of the chapel. We have merchandise for sale, everything from rosaries and statues to first Communion and confession items," explained Rosemary Costa, director of The Franciscan Place and a member of the Secular Franciscan Order. "We have Franciscan candles that the friars make that we sell exclusively here, and we have Franciscan maple syrup that a Secular Franciscan makes. We try to keep it literally with the Franciscan flavor."
The Franciscan Place is run by the Franciscan Church of the Assumption in Syracuse. The Franciscans opened the chapel and store in 1999 in order to follow St. Francis of Assisi’s example of evangelizing by bringing the Gospel message of God’s love to the spiritually poor, Costa said.
"St. Francis took his faith to the marketplace and took it out to people, and what better place to do that than in a mall?" she added.
Franciscan priests celebrate Mass at The Franciscan Place Monday through Friday and are available to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation Monday through Saturday. The chapel hosts adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on Friday afternoons and public recitations of the rosary on Wednesday afternoons. The Franciscan Place serves approximately 500 people each week, and Mass attendance for the period from January through May 2013 totalled more than 2,000, Costa said. In December 2012 alone more than 2,200 people visited the chapel and store, she added.
"We get quite a few people coming in and out of here every day. Some come here to go to Mass and confession, some come here to shop," Costa said. "We have everyone from women with baby carriers to elderly people and in between. We have young adults that come in, especially at confession times. We get people that work at the mall. We get a lot of people from Rochester."
The Franciscan Place also draws a lot of people from Auburn, according to Gary LaLonde, who with his wife RoseMarie belongs to St. Mary Parish in Auburn. Friends and fellow St. Mary parishioners Bernie and Margie Tomasso introduced the LaLondes to The Franciscan Place several years ago, and now both couples frequently visit the store and chapel. The Franciscan Place is a peaceful oasis of silence and prayer in the midst of one of the busiest shopping malls in the area, LaLonde said.
"It offers us a time and space to connect with Jesus for adoration and confession," he said.
"It’s a quiet place for renewal. It’s almost like being on a mini-retreat when you go. It’s a wonderful reflective place," Bernie Tomasso added.
Fellow St. Mary parishioner Rosemary Donato also frequents The Franciscan Place. A Secular Franciscan, Donato has been volunteering at the store and chapel every Wednesday for the past six years. Her volunteer work there provides an enjoyable way for her to serve others while meeting new people, she said.
Vivian Morrison frequently serves as a lector at daily Mass at The Franciscan Place and often prepares the altar for liturgy. On most days there are at least a dozen people at Mass, but it’s not unusual for there to be more than 40 people at Masses on special days like the first Fridays of each month, she said. On major holy days the management of Destiny USA allows The Franciscan Place’s staff and volunteers to hold Mass on the sixth floor, which has more room to accommodate a crowd, Costa said.
Many people don’t even realize The Franciscan Place exists unless they enter the mall from one of the underground parking garages, Morrison said. The store and chapel are a bit out of the way, but that’s not a bad thing, Costa added.
"I wouldn’t want to be right in the hub. It would be too noisy," she said, noting that the people who come to The Franciscan Place "just want to escape. They just want to come in here where it’s peaceful and quiet … and come to say a prayer."
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about The Franciscan Place, visit http://assumptionchurchsyracuse.org/index.php?page=the-franciscan-place-at-destiny-usa.